Jim White: If Agincourt history must be rewritten, how about changing Hastings and Crusades too?





[Jim White is a columnist with the Daily Telegraph.]

Well, it is an alternative to DIY. In the northern French town of Agincourt on Saturday and Sunday a collection of French historians spent the weekend rewriting history.

Not anything recent, mind. No, their challenge was to assault 593 years of received wisdom about the conflict for which the town has long been renowned.

All that history about the Battle of Agincourt we have long grown up on - the stirring speech by the English king Henry, English archers sticking two fingers up to the heavily armoured French cavalry, the astonishing bravery of English victory against the odds - is nothing more than fiction, the gathered historians claimed.

It is the result of deliberate myth-making by Shakespeare in his Henry V, perpetuated to this day by authors such as Bernard Cornwell whose best-selling novel Azincourt is a gripping, galloping, gore-filled celebration of the English underdog.

In fact, according to Christophe Gilliot of the Medieval History Museum in Agincourt, it was the poor French who were hugely outnumbered, it was the French who were lacking in kit and it was the French who were then treated savagely in defeat by their empire-building, illegally occupying English foes.

Our Shakespeare-tinted view of the event, he says, is "a distortion of the facts". Furthermore, Gilliot - resembling nothing more than a football manager in the aftermath of unexpected defeat in the first round of the Cup - adds, "some might accuse the English of acting like what might now be called war criminals".

It all sounds like a plea to have the result retrospectively annulled, removed from the international scorebook, as close as you can get to the academic equivalent of "we wuz robbed".

Still, now he has started his historical re-branding weekends, maybe Gilliot should tackle a whole raft of past events in the light of modern sensibilities.

If Henry's men can be dismissed as war criminals for their behaviour half a millennium before the Geneva Convention defined the term, surely he can extract academic mileage out of the following.

Building Regulation Violations at the Battle of Jericho. Consider the facts: the Israeli war monger Joshua leads his priests around the walled city of Jericho for seven days before ordering them to blow on their ram horns.

At the first blast of hot air, down come the walls, the Israelis walk in, slaughter the inhabitants and the siege is over.

Just ask yourself this: could it have happened if the local stonemasons had followed the correct procedure in erecting their defences? Did they get the structure signed off by the appropriate planning department? If not, the result cannot stand.

Issues of Animal Welfare in the Coliseum. It is all very well providing bread and circuses, but insufficient consideration was given to the rights of those involved in the entertainment.

Take the animals. Elephants billeted in inadequate accommodation, tigers ripped from their natural habitat and horses expected to perform in up to three chariot races a day without proper comfort breaks.

As for the poor lions: frankly a diet consisting solely of stringy Christians must have played havoc with their digestive systems.

Health and Safety concerns at the Battle of Hastings. All those arrows flying about without a thorough risk assessment having been undertaken beforehand: you could have someone's eye out.

Lack of transparency in the Crusaders' mission statement. For several hundred years, groups of men were sent abroad without a clear idea of whom they were fighting against.

Was it to remove the infidel from the Holy Land? Or simply to chuck a few uppity Cathars off the ramparts of a fortified village in the south of France? And who were they fighting for? God? The Pope? Themselves?

A simple corporate mission statement along the lines of that employed by the Post Office would have cleared up any misunderstandings.

Compensation from Viking raids. Not enough thought has been given to the aftermath of a visitation from the gangs of Nordic hooligans.

The repair bill for the burnt-out church alone was enough to empty most village coffers, not to mention the fee for the counselling required for all the nuns who were victims of the visitors' close personal attention.

Cleaning up after rape and pillage is an expensive business and not a penny has been forthcoming from any of the governments responsible. Though it is probably not worth pursuing Iceland for compensation just at the moment.

Insurance issues at the Battle of Trafalgar. There was Admiral Nelson's fleet setting about its French counterpart without any thought to the damage it might be doing to someone else's property.

What was the insurance position of those involved? Third party fire and theft is surely the minimum for any vessel, particularly those embarking on what appears to be a wilful orgy of destruction.

Plus, had anyone checked the register of sea worthiness of HMS Victory? Surely it was carrying several more cannon than are allowed under current regulations...






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